Sad, But True

An interesting article by Gregory Clark on the post-crisis status of macroeconomics includes the following money quote:

Recently a group of economists affiliated with the Cato Institute ran an ad in The New York Times opposing the Obama‘s [sic] stimulus plan. As chair of my department, I tried to arrange a public debate between one of the signatories and a proponent of fiscal stimulus — thinking that would be a timely and lively session. But the signatory, a fully accredited university macroeconomist, declined the opportunity for public defense of his position on the grounds that “all I know on this issue I got from Greg Mankiw‘s blog; I really am not equipped to debate this with anyone.”

A fully accredited university macroeconomist is not equipped to debate the defining macroeconomic issue of our generation? Sad, but all too believable. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the necessary credentials.

(Hat tip: Felix Salmon)

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  1. Dan Lufkin says:

    I think that macroeconomics may turn out to be like string-theory physics — The more you know about it, the more you realize that you don’t really know anything.

    Dan

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  2. Jared says:

    It’s also sad that the department chair would publicize this story and embarrass the professor as well as his own department. Every empiricist knows (or should know) that anecdotal evidence is the weakest form of evidence, so it’s not like supplying that information really proves any point other than that there exists AN economist who’s ill-equipped to debate the stimulus. Is shedding light on this unsurprising fact worth embarrassing a professor in your department? I would think not.

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  3. Matt says:

    This is freakonomics, in the other sense…

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  4. Jeff S. says:

    Mankiw Rules

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  5. David says:

    I would seriously challenge Gregory Clark’s fact checking. His commentary “Almost no-one predicted the world wide downtown. Academic economists were confident that episodes like the Great Depression had been confined to the dust bins of history. There was indeed much recent debate about the sources of “The Great Moderation” in modern economies, the declining significance of business cycles” is horribly false.

    Maybe he’s just running in different circles than me, but I heard warnings for the previous 18 months at least. Googling ‘real estate bubble’ gives heightened results dating well back in to 2005.

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  6. Dylan says:

    Jared,
    Nowhere in the article does it say that the economist in question was in his own department. Why’d you say he was?

    And that any university macroeconomist would have such little knowledge of macroeconomics is obviously shocking!

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  7. charles says:

    Be careful. Equiped and qualified are very different. Although he shouldn’t have signed based on what I’ve just read, who is “equiped”? I would have expected an equiped person to have read and analyzed the Stim package, and read it more than twice. I’m not sure anyone has done it – including those who voted for it. I’d happily debate and argue nobody is in a position to have a clue about it. Fakers

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  8. deriuqer says:

    Sad, but not true. Wouldn’t read too much into this. If he was indeed a “fully accredited macroeconomist” this phrasing could just mean that the debate reached a point where the theoretical arguments are clear to all, but due to the lack of evidence no useful conclusions could be made. You could run a roulette, and defend any resulting number as a theoretically sensible multiplier. Joining a discussion in this environment would make you indistinguishable from all those bozos on TV and the attention junkie academic types that they invite.

    To be sure, it is a problem of macroeconomics, but it doesn’t say much about the quality/agency problems among macroeconomists. Its like blaming NASA for not knowing whether there is life on other planets — THEY JUST DON’T KNOW. THEY AIN’T GOT THE DATA. All they can do for now is pull more theories out of you know where, which is more than we can say about the rest of the population, so it is an improvement.

    In other words, he could be just cynical, saying that another theory debate will be not much more fruitful than a blogpost. That’s what I would do, especially knowing that the person inviting me is writing silly articles, like the one described here. Sometimes one needs to use obscure excuses to get rid of certain social interactions.

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